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British Prime Minister Blair Addresses Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Aired May 3, 2001 - 06:40   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: We take you live now to London.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is speaking. Let's listen in to his comments.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: ... describe to you the facts. Foot-and-mouth disease has been an unpredictable and rampant virus that has been extremely difficult to control. It is why we've had to put in place an extraordinary operation, a logistical scientific strategic to deal with it.

Today, I want to take this opportunity of paying tribute to all those people who have worked so hard to fight this disease and bring it under control. To all the vets from Britain and from all over the world who came to help; to our armed forces, who showed us once again they're a force for good in the world, and in our own country too; to all the scientists involved; to the civil servants in the ministry of agriculture and all the other government departments and local government who have plied themselves to help; to the contractors; to the police; and to all those involved in combating foot-and-mouth disease there should be special words of thanks.

Also, a special word should go to the farmers themselves, who have suffered greatly from this terrible disease and yet still cooperated with the dreadful business of culling out their livestock.

To everyone else in the countryside who have stood by them, and stood by their country at a time of need also, thanks.

It is because of this huge effort that we are getting the disease under control. We have now all but completely cleared the backlog of animals waiting to be slaughtered, as well as the backlog waiting to be disposed of. But let me make it quite clear, right at the outset, that it is not over yet. We cannot in any way be complacent, and it is essential that we remain vigilant about it.

I can tell you that the backlog in Devon -- the final outstanding area -- should by the end of today be almost cleared. That's the backlog for disposal. This will mean that no more pyres to dispose of large numbers of carcasses will be lit after today's, and today's will run for about a week, and then it should end. We've released more than 16,000 farms from infected-area restrictions. The number of animals slaughtered each week is also now, obviously, falling considerably.

Logistically, handling this outbreak has been an enormous exercise. It is probably the biggest peacetime logistical challenge that the army has faced. The scale of combating foot-and-mouth disease has far exceeded, for example, the logistical demands even of the Gulf War. Brigadier Woodley's (ph) been in operational charge of handling the defense logistics, and is one to whom I would pay particular tribute to here, this morning.

We will remain on watch. It is essential that we do so. We will not slacken our guard against foot-and-mouth. The risk remains of cases arising in areas which are already infected, or in new areas, so continuing vigilance, as I say, is essential. We know also that there is a great deal to do yet to clean up our farms and to restore our tourist industry.

It's not going to be a overnight process. It will be a long haul, and it is absolutely vital that, as we bear down on the disease and the number of cases falls -- and this is a point that I made particularly to the representatives of the farming unions, whom I met this morning -- that farmers themselves do not drop their guard in protecting their farms from the virus. So the security measures that they take are absolutely essential to remain in place.

Nick is going to say more in a moment about our plans to contact farmers in infected areas so that they will know exactly what needs to be done, because just as we are able to reduce the number of cases and have the disease under control, the absolutely key thing is that we do not relax at all those security measures that are essential to keep it under control.

Now, when foot-and-mouth is fully eradicated, of course, some will move on, but we know that for farmers in the countryside in general, this is going to remain a time of great change and great anxiety. We will do all we can to help people through these changes, and our work will not stop when foot-and-mouth is gone.

As the epidemic recedes, the tension is rightly turning to the question of a recovery plan for the livestock industry. The government does see a case for helping those farmers most affected by the crisis to take rational and sustainable decisions on their future.

Nick Brown is going to look with the industry and other stakeholders at a recovery plan designed to address these and other issues. Our aim must also be to ensure that restocking helps achieve our wider objectives on the environment, food safety, animal welfare, and animal traceability.

Partly by providing business planning and consultancy advice, we must continue the aim we set out in the agriculture strategy that we drew up with the farming community last year, to make British farming more market-oriented, more innovative, and more diverse. For country areas, more widely -- especially those which are heavily dependent on tourism, and which have seen their livelihoods jeopardized, their incomes reduced, and their futures threatened -- foot-and-mouth has been just as difficult. On tourism, we've already announced a series of measures to help the tourist industry and rural businesses, including rate release, backing small firms' loans, and deferred tax payments.

John Prescott announced earlier this week a 43 million pounds ($62 million) package for regeneration projects in market towns, and yesterday Chris Smith announced an extra 12 million pounds...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUFFER: You've been listening live to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. They're speaking about foot-and-mouth disease in Great Britain, painting the picture that the worst is behind the country, and calling this extremely difficult to control.

He compared the effort to get rid of foot-and-mouth disease to the logistics of the Gulf War, saying that it far exceeded the logistics and the planning for the Gulf War.

He says it is not over yet, and that we can not be complacent -- that farmers and people in Great Britain will still have to look out for it.

Some 2.2 million animals were slaughtered because of foot-and- mouth disease.

And there was a political note to all of this: British Prime Minister Tony Blair had put off national elections by coming out and saying that the worst may be behind the country in the fight against foot-and-mouth disease; it may give him some leeway to call national elections as early as June 7. So we'll be watching that for you.

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